BEST EVER Paleo Pumpkin Pie

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My uber-fabulous medical assistant, Michelle, samples the goods on a well-deserved break!

I once thought I hated pumpkin pie.  That was until I tasted one made from scratch rather than canned filling.  Wow!  It was a total revelation.  I think I ate a LOT of that pie.  For the past two decades or so, I’ve been working on a pie filling that minimizes sugar and maximizes that fresh, orange, baked-by-the-sun pumpkin flavor.  Today I’m going to share it with you — just in time for holiday feasting.

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Pumpkin or squash?  Which makes the better pie??

… But here’s a little secret: it’s not usually made with pumpkin.  Instead, the more flavorful (I think!) squash (you pick your variety) stands in, combined with a sweet potato that reduces the amount of sweetener needed.  I recently had a bit of a debate with a friend, who staunchly maintained that it could not be called “pumpkin pie” if it didn’t contain pumpkin.  This made me wonder just what the difference really is between pumpkins and squashes … since I had to pick a food to research for a nutrition class final project, I decided to investigate.  Turns out that what we commonly classify as pumpkins and squashes actually all come from the same Cucurbita genus, of which there are several species.  Not being a botanical scholar, I’m willing to just go with the idea that they are all close cousins, each deserving of their shot at pie fame.

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Technically, as the part of the plant that develops from the flower and contains seeds, the squash/pumpkin is a fruit, not a vegetable.

When you analyze them nutritionally, common squash varieties and pumpkins have very similar nutritional profiles.  With their orange hue it’s no suprise that they provide a whopping dose of Vitamin A and a good amount of Vitamin C.  But they also contain folate & a few other B vitamins, as well as minerals, including magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, calcium — and a healthy dose of fiber.  Varieties of squash also played a significant role in the indigenous diets of North America.  Among many Native American peoples, squash were one of the “Three Sisters” together with beans and corn.  Planted as a group, the three plants intertwine and support one another in their own tiny micro-climate, while providing us with all eight essential amino acids.

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Ah Ha!  Pumpkin Squash.  That makes things easy 🙂

PUMPKIN — i.e. — SQUASH-OF-YOUR-CHOICE PIE:

  • 2 small (or one large — see photo) winter squash (I like butternut, acorn, kabocha or a small sugar pumpkin)
  • 1 large sweet potato or yam
  • 1 cup full-fat coconut milk
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup coconut sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon cloves or allspice
  • few drops — I use exactly 3 drops — liquid vanilla stevia (optional — to taste)  ** A note about sweetener … if you want to really reduce sugars, cut the maple syrup and coconut sugar to 1/3 or even 1/4 cup each, and increase the stevia.
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I choose fairly small squash and fairly large sweet potatoes.  Here, they are cooled and ready for the food processor…

First, roast your squash and sweet potato.  Whack squash in half with a large knife (please be extremely careful).  Scoop out seeds, and place halves, cut side down, in pan with about an inch of water in the bottom.  Bake at 375 until tender.  Remove from pan and flip cut side up to cool.  Sweet potato will take a bit longer than squash to get tender.  (You could also do all of this in microwave.)  I usually do the roasting one day, and then put together the pie the next day.

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Flashback 20 years — the very first Thanksgiving I baked a prototype of this pie.  I made six pies that year in a tiny off-the-grid California cabin, all of which went into the back of the pumpkin orange VW to bring to friends in Oregon.  Puppy Marley ate nearly half a pie on the way north, while we thought she was napping.  She gave that early version five stars.

Peel sweet potato, and scoop out squash flesh.  Puree with all the other ingredients — this will take two batches in a regular size food processor.  Mix filling all together in a large mixing bowl, and pour into prepared crust.  (Recipe below.)  Bake at 350 degrees until center is firm but has just a tiny bit of “wiggle” when you shake the pan.  (Roughly 45 minutes in my oven.  It will vary.)  If you’re using a pie pan, and crust is exposed, it’s a good idea to put a foil “sleeve” around the crust — just fold strips of aluminum foil around the rim — to protect the nut crust from getting too brown.  Allow to cool completely (overnight best) and chill in fridge before slicing.

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Berry the Cat supervises the pressing of crust into pan.  He has a critical eye, and he likes butter.

PECAN CRUST:

  • 3 cups pecans (or walnuts)
  • 1/2 cup crystalized ginger pieces
  • 4 tablespoons butter or coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Put nuts and ginger pieces in a food processor, and whizz until pulverized.  Melt the oil of your choice, and add to nut mixture with vanilla.  Press into pie plate or bottom and partway up sides of springform pan.  I use a 9 inch springform pan, and 10 inch pie plate because it’s shallower.  I have a bit leftover in both cases, which I bake, crustless, in a separate little pan and have for breakfast!

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Ready for the oven …

This pie is not too sweet and very flavorful.  I used to bake it in a conventional gluten-free crust, but the crust always broke as the pie cooled.  Hence, the nut crust, which is a million times better and so easy.  This pie is great with whipped cream or coconut cream — add a splash of vanilla, when whipping — If I’m serving this formally, I like to present with a dusting of nutmeg on top of the cream and a sliver of crystalized ginger to top off.

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YUM!  Now who needs white sugar and flour??  I prefer a springform pan for this recipe so I don’t have to worry about the nut crust browning too fast.

This is a dessert that even those who normally eat a regular high-carb, high sugar/grain diet will love.  It’s a pie for all!  (I also made a vegan version for a few years with tofu … maybe that’ll be next year’s recipe.)  For anyone who can’t get enough of pumpkins & squash at this time of year, I have been enjoying a terrific new cookbook titled, “Purely Pumpkin” by Allison Day.  I don’t always love cookbooks devoted to a single ingredient, but this is a great one!  Have a wonderful feast, everyone.  May you enjoy it with people (and other animals) you love.  Blessings.

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Some hungry Chinese Medicine students dig in.  This pie gets around 🙂
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